Living with a digestive disease can make it difficult to enjoy some of the ordinary pleasures of life, like eating or drinking or celebrating with friends. For chronic, incurable diseases like Crohn’s disease, it can feel overwhelming just to weather the cycle of flare ups and remission. However, there are many treatment options available today to make life with Crohn’s disease much more enjoyable. But what exactly is Crohn’s disease, and how can you know what treatment option is right for you?
What is Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s disease is an irritable bowel disease (IBD) that causes chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. While it can affect any part of the GI tract, it commonly involves the lower regions, such as the small intestine and the start of the colon. It can appear at any age, but most often is diagnosed in people 20-30 years old. Inflammation from Crohn’s disease can occur in patches, leaving some parts of the GI tract unaffected. Like ulcerative colitis, it is characterized by flare ups and periods of remission.
Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease
The severity and experience of Crohn’s disease varies from person to person, but there are several common symptoms. They include:
- Stomach pain
- Bloody stools
- Unintended weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Sores on skin or mouth
In certain severe cases, patients may develop anemia, kidney stones, inflammation of eyes, skin, and joints, or even developmental delays (in children).
Diagnosis & Treatment for Crohn’s Disease
Diagnosing Crohn’s disease involves blood tests and stool samples. Sometimes more investigative procedures are necessary, such as MRIs, CT scans, and endoscopies. Since there is often (but not always) a genetic link for the disease, the doctor will probably ask questions about family medical history to better ascertain the likelihood of Crohn’s. After eliminating other options, the doctor will use the data from the tests to create a treatment plan that will best care for your needs.
There is no cure for Crohn’s disease, but there are several treatment options to make life more pleasant. The goal of any treatment is both to reduce discomfort from flare ups and to increase the duration of remission periods.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs — these medications reduce the inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease.
- Immunosuppressants — Crohn’s disease is considered an autoimmune disease, which means the immune system overreacts and attacks the person’s own body instead of an outside threat. Suppressing the immune system’s response, therefore, can reduce inflammation and discomfort.
- Biologics — these specialized therapies are given usually through IV injection or infusion. They target specific proteins produced by the immune system to regulate its response.
Lifestyle, Diet, and Nutrition
Adjusting your lifestyle and what you put into your body can improve your experience with Crohn’s disease. There are some common factors that trigger flare ups — such as spicy foods, dairy, fiber, or stress — but what dietary or lifestyle choices are best will vary from person to person. It’s important to take note of how certain foods and activities affect these flare ups in order to reduce their frequency and intensity. You can also work with your doctor or a dedicated nutritionist to formulate an individualized eating plan.
Even with a healthy diet and medication, almost 70% of people with Crohn’s disease will need surgical intervention at some point during their lives. This involves removing the affected parts of the GI tract and fusing the healthy portions together. Often this can lead to lengthy remission periods, but it does not actually cure the disease. Further surgeries may be required down the road.
If You’re Suffering from Crohn’s Disease, Nurse Practitioners of Florida Can Help
At Nurse Practitioners of Florida, we have a dedicated team of certified nurse practitioners who have an unwavering commitment to providing you with care and compassion. When you call any of our locations, you will be greeted by a live person who’s ready to offer acute medical care as well as preventive measures — including flu vaccines. And, above everything else, you will be treated like family.
If you need assistance, call us or fill out our online contact form.